Living Legends: Where are they now?
When you play 14 seasons in the NFL and have trophies and accolades to show for it, it must feel weird to be recognized by a trophy you won off the field.
By all accounts, former Georgia standout Hines Ward had a Hall of Fame career. Drafted in the third round of the 1998 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ward finished his career as the franchise’s all-team leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown receptions. He was a four-time selection to the Pro Bowl and was named MVP in Super Bowl XL.
But even after that career — he’ll likely be a first-ballot Hall of Famer — his most well-known win comes on the ballroom floor.
“I’m more known for Dancing with the Stars than for my fourteen years that I played,” Ward told Esquire Magazine. “And crossing over to that crowd opened up more opportunities; Dark Knight Rises, The Walking Dead, a Head and Shoulders commercial with no hair on my head.”
But according to Ward, his venture onto the popular reality contest show was not well-received within his circle.
“I told my mom and coaches and teammates about Dancing with the Stars and they all laughed at me,” Ward said. “No one was encouraging. No one was supportive. No one said, ‘Oh man. Go out, have fun, and do the best you can.'”
“Everyone laughed at me. Maybe that’s the world we live in. But when I walk into a dance club or something, hell, I think I’m the best dancer in there, and now I’ve got a trophy to show for it.”
He’s reached the mountaintop, but the journey has included a lot of valleys.
Ward grew up in metro Atlanta, Georgia. He was born in Seoul, South Korea to an African-American father and a Korean mother. A year after moving back to the States, however, Ward’s father left and never returned. That left him with his mother, who was not fluent in English.
“I wasn’t close to my father growing up, but my mother and I were teammates,” Ward said. “She couldn’t help me academically because she didn’t really know much about American education.”
Ward was sent to live with his paternal grandfather after his father convinced a court that his mother could not raise him independently because she could not speak English. He was reunited with his mother a few years later, however.
“It frustrated her,” Ward said. “But what she did know is how to work her tail off. She never quit. She could’ve easily went back to Korea and left me here with my dad, but she worked her ass off so she was fit to be a parent.”
“Just learning about all the sacrifices she made for me makes anything I do peanuts.”
Ward has become a champion for biracial children. He found solace on the gridiron growing up.
“I love everything about football: the essence, the smell of the grass, the shoulder pads, the camaraderie in the locker room — like a band of brothers,” Ward said. “I love the fans, the boos, the enemies, the trash talking.”
Shortly after announcing his retirement in March of 2012, Ward inked a deal with NBC Sports as an analyst on its Sunday night pregame show, “Football Night in America.”
But television isn’t his biggest challenge this days.
Ward trained and completed the Iron Man Triathlon in Hawaii last October.
Said Ward: “The finish line is the most rewarding feeling ever.”